Brown brings to the job background in animal control, personnel management, and law enforcement, knows Los Angeles, & is bilingual
LOS ANGELES––Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti on June 24, 2021 nominated Dana Brown, 57, to become the next Los Angeles Animal Services general manager, succeeding Brenda Barnette, 72, who retired on May 7, 2021 after a 10-year tenure.
The appointment of Brown, named interim general manager of Los Angeles Animal Services on April 2, 2021, and serving since May 10, is expected to be quickly confirmed by the Los Angeles city council.
First in U.S. but second in L.A.
Brown will thereby become the first woman of African-American descent to head a U.S. major league city animal care and control department on a permanent basis, but the second African-American woman to head Los Angeles Animal Services, following Sharon Morris, who was interim general manager for three months in 2004.
Morris, also the first female to head Los Angeles Animal Services, filled in between the resignation of her predecessor, Jerry Greenwalt, and the appointment of Guerdon H. Stuckey, the first African-American to be named permanent general manager.
The only other African-American ever to head a major league city animal control department, at the time, was George Watford, an employee of the American SPCA in New York City from approximately 1976 to 1991, retiring as ASPCA vice president for animal management three years before the ASPCA in 1994 surrendered the city animal control contract it had held for 100 years.
Watford had been the last director of the ASPCA shelter in Brooklyn, New York, closed in 1979, sold in 1981 and now housing multiple commercial businesses.
Big job, but well qualified
“Dana Brown has served the City of Los Angeles for more than 30 years,” Los Angeles mayor Garcetti told media when Brown was designated interim general manager of animal services.
In that capacity, Brown will oversee operations at the six City of Los Angeles animal shelters and supervise animal law enforcement.
Within the U.S., only the Los Angeles County animal control department operates more shelters. Around half a dozen departments annually handle as many animals.
Brown since January 2019 had been chief employee relations officer for the City of Los Angeles, but previously was assistant general manager of Los Angeles Animal Services for two years and nine months.
Earlier, Brown was a city labor relations officer, police administrator for Los Angeles World Airports, director of human resources for the Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens, and an employee relations analyst for Los Angeles World Airports.
Brown is fluent in Spanish as well as English, a huge plus in a city where nearly half the population identifies as Latino.
Several predecessors hounded out
Comparisons are inevitable, not only with Barnette but also with Stuckey, who was perhaps the shortest-tenured “permanent” general manager of Los Angeles Animal Services ever.
Stuckey brought to Los Angeles no prior experience in animal care and control, nor in animal-related work of any sort, no prior experience in law enforcement, and no familiarity with the community.
Stuckey had previously worked in various administrative capacities in Rockville, Maryland, and Charlotte, North Carolina, but Brown would appear to have more extensive background in every aspect of running an animal control agency, and more significantly, in working under the Los Angeles media microscope, among some of the most aggressive activists in the U.S., many of them well-connected in Hollywood.
Coming under immediate attack by militant no-kill advocates, especially pit bull advocates, who had also hounded Morris and Greenwalt, Stuckey lasted just thirteen months before being fired by then-Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, only days after Villaraigosa took office.
Most former L.A. animal control chiefs left the field
Villaraigosa brought then-New York City animal control chief Ed Boks to Los Angeles.
Boks, who had earlier been animal control chief in Maricopa County, Arizona, was initially welcomed by most of the bitter foes of his several predecessors. Boks survived four years as Los Angeles animal services general manager before Barnette succeeded him.
Boks returned to Arizona to head the Yavapai Humane Society for six years.
Now executive director of the Spokane Humane Society, Boks is the only second former Los Angeles Animal Services general manager in 153 years to ever again seek another job in the animal care-and-control field.
The other, Dan Knapp, finished his tenure, 1998-2001, on a prolonged sick leave attributed to stress. Knapp had previously headed the Humane Society of Humboldt County and the Humane Society of Sonoma County, both in northern California.
Knapp later headed the Capital Area Humane Society in Columbus, Ohio, but had developed a heart condition while in Los Angeles, and died from a sudden heart attack in 2004 at age 49.
Barnette took L.A. to “no kill”––at price in public safety
Barnette, who at her appointment was the eighth Los Angeles Animal Services general manager in 16 years, and retired as the third longest tenured ever, may be a difficult act for Brown to follow.
A favorite of the Los Angeles no-kill and pit bull advocacy sector, Barnette announced her retirement a little less than three weeks after Best Friends Animal Society president Julie Castle exulted on March 10, 2021 that, “Los Angeles has entered the ranks of our nation’s no-kill communities as the largest such city in the country!
“The 2020 save rate in the city of Los Angeles was 90.49%,” Castle blogged.
But the “save rate”––a measuring tool that ANIMALS 24-7 does not use, as inherently misleading––is less a measure of “lifesaving” services than an indication of what an animal sheltering system and/or animal control district is not doing: removing problematic animals from the community.
The more aggressive an agency is in impounding dangerous dogs, in particular, the lower the “save rate” will be––if the agency puts public safety first, including the safety of other animals.
Los Angeles Animal Services achieved a 90% “save rate” in part through a partnership with the Best Friends Animal Society, which from January 2012 through January 2020 managed one of the city animal shelters as an adoption center but also in part by closing all six Los Angeles shelters to owner surrenders and drop-offs of found stray dogs and cats without an appointment for most of 2020, as well as at least the first six months of 2021.
Los Angeles Animal Services attributed the shelter closures to a personnel absentee rate associated with to the global COVID-19 pandemic which at times reached 20%.
Los Angeles Animal Services meanwhile led the U.S. in known disfiguring attacks by dogs in animal shelters and/or rehomed by shelters in both 2019 and 2020, albeit with no fatalities.
According to City Watch columnist Phyllis Daugherty, who rarely credited Barnette with any positive accomplishment, “A recent safety analysis by Los Angeles Animal Services executive management showed a 47% increase in dog attacks/bites in the shelters, according to reliable City of Los Angeles sources.”
Garcetti in nominating Brown to become permanent general manager of Los Angeles Animal Services mentioned that she had “learned what it means to bring this city back to basics,” along with an expectation that Brown would lead the department “toward a new chapter of accountability, efficiency, and sustainability.”
Blogged Daugherty, “The timing of this permanent appointment is vitally important, as interim assistant general manager Annette Ramirez,” who was apparently Barnette’s first choice as successor, “announced at the last [animal care and control] commission meeting that there is no plan to take in terrified pets fleeing the brutal Fourth of July fireworks explosions that have already started citywide.”
Instead, according to Daugherty, “Although reportedly the animal shelters are only half filled, Ramirez said Los Angeles Animal Services wants to ‘keep pets out of the shelters by using rescue partners to reunite pets with owners. Found pets will be accepted by appointment only.”
“Very tough job ahead of her”
Daugherty predicted that Brown “will have a very tough job ahead of her in a department that is decimated administratively,” with “few employees who have the basic historical knowledge to assure Los Angeles does not revert to a city filled with dangerous roaming dog packs due to lax enforcement of confinement and licensing laws.”
But––while Daugherty disagrees––Barnette did considerably simplify cat-related animal care and control duties by winning unanimous Los Angeles city council approval of a revived Citywide Cat Program in December 2020.
This “clears the way for the city to use municipal funds to spay or neuter 20,000 cats per year,” explained Alley Cat Allies publicist Peter Osborne.
Citywide Cat Program revived––without feeding
The vote came approximately 60 days after publication of a 714-page Los Angeles Citywide Cat Program Final Environmental Impact Report that resoundingly endorsed neuter/return feral cat control, but with the proviso that “The proposed project does not include feeding.”
The framework of the Citywide Cat Program was introduced by Ed Boks in 2006.
The program appeared to be making demonstrable headway toward reducing the Los Angeles outdoor cat population when halted on December 9, 2009 by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Thomas McKnew.
McKnew ruled, on behalf of five organizations representing birders, that the Citywide Cat Program violated the California Environmental Quality Act because it was initiated without an environmental impact study.
During the 10 years that the Citywide Cat Program was suspended, while Barnette cut the red tape necessary to restart it, the estimated Los Angeles free-roaming cat population increased from circa 50,000 to 342,915, the Citywide Cat Program Final Environmental Impact Report found.